What to Expect During a Pap Smear

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On Healthful Woman, Dr. Stephanie Lam explained why patients shouldn’t “fear the Pap smear.” A Pap smear is one of the most commonly performed tests that gynecologists conduct, but many patients feel nervous about it, particularly if they haven’t had a Pap smear before. Knowing what to expect during your test can help you feel more confident before your annual appointment with a gynecologist.  

When Should I Have a Pap Smear? 

Most gynecologists recommend that patients between the ages of 21 and 65 have a Pap smear during annual checkups. These tests are typically repeated about every three years, depending on each patient’s needs and their gynecologist’s recommendation. Your gynecologist may recommend you have Pap smears more frequently if you were previously diagnosed with cervical cancer or precancer, have an HIV infection, or have a weakened immune system, among other reasons.  

Pap smears are performed to screen for cervical cancer and, in recent years, HPV. Dr. Fox calls Pap smears one of the “most effective cancer screening inventions in history,” which is why gynecologists recommend that patients have them regularly.  

How are Pap Smears Done? 

Pap smears are performed in your gynecologist’s office. You will be asked to undress and lie on an exam table with your heels resting in stirrups. Your gynecologist will then insert a speculum into the vagina to hold the walls of the vagina apart, which may result in some pressure, but should not be painful. Them, they will take a small sample of cervical cells using a soft brush and small spatula. The test is completed within a few short minutes. Dr. Lam explains that most patients are “pleasantly surprised” at how fast, simple, and painless a Pap smear is.  

What Happens After a Pap Smear? 

After your Pap smear, you can return to your regular routine. Your doctor will send your cell samples to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope to screen for cancer or precancer. You will receive your results within a short period of time, usually no more than a few weeks.  

In some cases, you may receive an abnormal result from a Pap smear. This does not necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer, and in fact most abnormal results from Pap smear tests are false alarms. If you do have an abnormal result, your gynecologist will explain further testing.  

Schedule an Appointment  

To schedule a Pap smear or other type of appointment with a gynecologist, call Carnegie Women’s Health in New York City at (315) 628-7063 or contact us online.  

Dr. Stephanie Lam

Dr. Stephanie Lam

Dr. Stephanie Lam is a Board Certified Obstetrician/Gynecologist. She served for many years as full-time academic faculty at the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York before joining the practice. She is a committed teacher, and during her academic tenure, Dr. Lam was the recipient of multiple medical school teaching awards.